My family had descended on Hilton Head, South Carolina as a vacation and as a quasi-family reunion. Much of my father’s side of the family hailed from the south. I was nine at the time and it took me no time at all to make friends with some of the other kids at the resort. We turned into a sort of trouble brigade, exploring places in the hotel that guests weren’t supposed to go, taking floatable furniture from the beach out into the water in spite of beach servers admonishing us. “You aren’t our parents!” we would yell back. Of course, our parents were unreachable, off on the links at one of the golf courses.
We felt we hit the jackpot when my parents announced that the ‘adults’ would be going out for dinner and wouldn’t be back until late -after one in the morning- and we kids should amuse ourselves with the television or the movie that the hotel showed in the evenings in the little theater. If we wanted a snack, go ahead and get it and sign it to the room. By ten o’clock we’d seen the movie, discovered that nothing good was on television and decided to go outside and see what we could find to do.
The idea was presented that we should drag a few of the chaise longues from the patio down to the beach so we could eat snacks and watch the ocean. Thanks to the Naval Station in Charleston, there were often large vessels cruising the area headed in or out. Ignoring the sign which asked guests to ‘please do not move furniture to the beach,’ a couple of us grabbed the foot end of the lounging chairs and dashed down across the sand with them. Halfway there we hear someone protesting and asking angrily, “what’s going on?”
It turned out that an elderly gentleman was, wrapped in a blanket to keep the night chill off of him, had fallen asleep in one of the chairs we’d purloined. We kept on going because at first, his voice muffled by the blanket, we thought it was a hotel staff member back up at the hotel patio. We were almost at the waters edge when we realized we’d just kidnapped another guest. The chaise was jerked from our hands as he fought the blankets off and kicked out at us.
“What the hell are you boys doing?” he snarled at us as we stood on either side of the chair. We weren’t sure what to do, this was an unexpected development. Finally, a boy named Willie told him we were just taking the chair to the waters edge and didn’t realize anyone was in it. He didn’t ingratiate himself to the old gentlemen by saying in his southern accented voice “We din know you was in the chair, you bein’ kinda puny an’ all.”
In the wink of an eye, the old guy snatched up a towel and snapped it hard enough to leave a mark on Willie’s cheek. “Hey!” said Willie, “that huite!”
“Serves you right you little mongrel.” snarled the old man. “Now, roll me back up to the veranda and put that other chair back as well.” What with his accuracy with the towel, we all figured it was best to do as he asked so Willie and I grabbed the foot of the lounge and trudged it back up to the hotel, the old gent riding like an emperor.
We deposited him back where we found him and he asked us what our names were. Not wanting to tell him, we each quickly threw out the first name we thought of. I said I was “Bill.” The old guy was pretty cool about things, he had the waiter get us all an ice cream soda and sent us on our way.
Relieved we’d escaped without some dreaded consequence, like our parents finding out what we’d done, we decided to call it a night and each of us head back to our rooms so we’d look innocent when our parents returned.
None the wiser to our brush with trouble, my parents herded my sister and I down to the restaurant for breakfast. I almost choked on my orange juice when a familiar voice from behind said “Good morning, Bill. Is this your family?”
My father stood and introduced himself, my mom and sister and said that he’d obviously met his son BOB. I felt myself sliding down in the chair, trying my hardest to shrink into nothingness. “Ah, Bob,” said the old guy. “I’m terrible with names. I guess it comes with age.”
“How do you know my son?” asked my father.
“Why, he helped me get fro the beach up to the veranda last night. He’s a good hearted young man.” My mom looked proud, my father looked dubious. “You all enjoy your breakfast. I need to be on my way,” said the elderly man. He toddled off to a table at the other end of the restaurant.
I felt terrible when my mom said that she was so proud of me for helping that man that she thought I deserved a special reward. I’d been wanting to have my parents rent a Sunfish for me, a kind of combination surfboard and sailboat. They had balked at it, but on account of my good behavior, they’d rent me one for the afternoon.
I pushed it off the beach and sailed it around a it, but it just wasn’t fun. My conscience was nagging at me I suppose. I brought the craft back to the beach early and turned it in, not feeling very good about the special treatment.
My father thundered at me for wasting his money. I couldn’t have been more pleased to take a good dressing down.